The night of 1999
The Random Hall nightwatch log of June 26

It all started by the nightwatch people calling the Random Hall desk at 4pm of June 25, 1999, and telling me they need a student to take that night's shift. I said I would try to find someone and call them back. At 4:20pm, they called again, and told me slightly impatienly that they need to know whether somebody is covering nightwatch or not. I told them that probably yes, and earned a 5 minute lecture, this time very patient and understanding, that I can't just THINK, I have to KNOW, otherwise it's good for nothing. They have to be SURE that somebody is going to be at Random Hall tonight. What a care, seven and a half hours before the shift starts, I thought, and when Teresa came in and trained me to do nightwatch, I called them that we had a student covering.

The fire alarm went on at about 11:30. We all, according to the directions, checked that our door was not hot and there was no smoke behind it, and left the building. Also according to directions, since crossing Mass Ave at night is dangerous, we stayed at the gas station next door (I didn't make this up, that's really what the directions said in case of fire). The MIT Police came fairly quickly, after them (significantly less quickly) came the Fire Department.

After about half an hour we were let back in the building, without an explanation. As I found out later, the rusty sprinklers on the first floor just went crazy and started sprinkling for no apparent reason. To a question if they check the sprinklers any other time than during installation, the responsible people very surprisedly (as if it were ever needed) said no.

It seemed to me that starting nightwatch with about twenty-five policemen around was not terribly necessary, but on the other hand, I thought, at least I won't have too much work. What a prophet comment that was.

The first hour of my shift, I and about 8 other people spent swimming in the Millis' apartment, trying to dry up important things such as books and records. Isn't that nice of the maintenance being so concerned about our health that they provide us with such great opportunities to exercise?

I guess I wasn't one of the people that could be helped by exercising, so I was called to desk by the head of our nightwatch unit. There was, he told me, another lady for nightwatch tonight, so that the two of us could take better care of the dorm and make sure everything was alright. As it turned out, the alarms were turned off completely, so we better check every so often that nothing was burning down.

That was fine with me, so the two of us split the dorm - I had the 282 side, she had the 290 side plus the radio and pleasure of letting locked-out people in. After swimming for a little while longer, and explaining to the nightwatch head that the master key was NOT on the desk key ring, and that there was NO POINT in me checking my door with all the keys on it (which he didn't believe me anyway), I went to the quiet and calming Bonfire floor.

After peacefully sitting there for about 6 seconds, the fire alarm went off again, this time only for a little while. I ran to desk in my terrible killer-shoes, almost breaking my legs on every staircase, and there was the nightwatch lady smiling at me and saying: "I knew you would run over here. We are just testing the alarms". I took it as a nice joke, and after spending about 10 minutes explaining to the nightwatch head that the master key was NOT on the desk key ring, and that there was NO POINT in me checking my door with all the keys on it (which he, surprisingly, didn't believe me again), I went to the quiet and calming Bonfire floor.

After peacefully sitting there for about 6 seconds, the fire alarm went off again, this time only for a little while. I ran to desk, and there was the nightwatch lady smiling at me and saying: ...
I'll spare you from the rest of the story.

After all this ended, the policemen left, and the head nightwatch left, trying all the desk keys to the door lock on his way out, I, again, went back to the 282 side and made a round. When I came back to Bonfire, I happily said that it's great to have two nightwatches, because I don't have to check both sides. In response to that, the person currently on the floor opened his eyes wide and said: "Oh, nobody told you anything?" I was curious WHAT it was that everybody was supposed to tell me, and the answer was that the other nightwatch left about half an hour ago, leaving (at 1:50) message at desk that she was gone. The desk closes at 2am. I'm not going to comment on the probability of me coming down to desk in the 10 minutes between 1:50 and 2, especially because desk, what a pity, is on the 290 side.

So I went and made a round at the 290 side, too. I talked to Boris for about 35 seconds, before I was called on the radio that some people need to be let it. "Some people" was the physical plant or whoever, going to check the sprinklers in the basement. The next part of my shift was devoted to running around, getting calls from them that the basement is all wet, that the laundry machines have to be unplugged, that the desk is open, and this went wrong, and that needs to be fixed, and I started regretting that nightwatch exists.

After some time, it all went quiet again, so I talked to Scott and was very grateful for this incredibly long and quiet part of my desk shift. After about 5 minutes, though, I started to be suspicious that somebody is jamming the radios, because that was just unnatural. But Unit 12 saved me the worries and gave me another series of calls about couple dozen things that were and EMERGENCY, RIGHT NOW.

The last one (in this series, anyway), involved me telling them the front desk number, and being asked for the 130 number, terribly necessary at that hour of the day. I didn't know that one off the top of my head, and so it was (again very patiently), explained to me that there was such thing as staff directory, and that the number would be in it. Slightly surprised that THEY don't have one, I found the number and gave it to them. But that was not it yet. The next question was what was the front door number. I said I had no idea, and I got another (very patient) lecture that the front door number is the telephone number of the phone just outside the front door on the left if I'm going out, and on the right if I'm going in. And that, in case I didn't get it, it's NOT the front desk number, that one is different. Which didn't give me any more ideas on what the number was, so Unit 12 gave up on me and ended the phone call.

The immediately following thing was me discovering that half the hall phones and some of the room phones don't work, at about the same time as some telephone guys arrived and went to the basement to look at the lines. After that, they explained to me that there was nothing that could be done, because they didn't have a full list of not working telephone numbers. I gave them about 6 right away, but that was not all of them, so why bother. Unless I had the full list, there was obviously no reason to do anything.

To my remark that they should call the numbers and find out right then, they explained to me that that couldn't be done, because there was no way to tell. To my answer that the police can tell how many and what types of devices are connected to a phone line by calling, and that I can tell which ones are not working by using the desk phone, I got a lecture about the US telephone situation, and about people not being on their stations because it's Saturday, and that it won't be done until late Sunday anyway, whereas on Monday it would take only a few minutes.

I decided that it was just not worth it, and told them I would get the list of phone numbers. Oh, and using the random-hall mailing list is not enough, because summer residents are not on it. Well, there is only about 8 floors full of people in Random Hall, of which not ten percent are in their rooms at the same time, but other than that it was a great idea.

The remaining 30 seconds of my nightwatch were very peaceful. I realized that this night was very useful - I NEVER got so many patient and understanding lectures in my entire life.

Who was it that told me that nightwatch shifts are INCREDIBLY BORING?

Miki Havlickova